Australian police warns parents about gaming predators

Does your child play video games online? Do they use chat functions, as well? If so, be extra careful – sexual predators like to lurk in the digital shadow and befriend unsuspecting children, Australian federal police (AFP) warned.

According to its press release, parents and carers should seek to be more readily involved in their children’s online activities – specifically online gaming. The police say predators often use chat functions on these platforms to contact children.

Hilda Sirec, Acting Assistant Commissioner, said many adults did not actually realize how offenders can use in-game chatting to initiate conversations with their offspring.

“These offenders may pretend to be young themselves or use details from the child’s profile to portray themselves as a ‘friend of their friends’,” Sirec said.

“In some cases, an offender will suggest they start conversing on a different platform or app that allows sharing of images and videos. This might be typically where an offender will start engaging in sexualised chat.”

If initial contact is successful, predators may then use coercion or in-game currency as a bribe to trick or groom children into providing explicit material or request to meet in-person.

AFP also stressed parents shouldn’t even worry precisely what games their children are playing because any game or app can be used for harm if it has online connectivity and, especially, chat functions.

Parents are advised to always check whether the game their children are playing has a direct message or chat function. If they deem the chat not to be necessary, it’s recommended to disable it.

Some apps or games also have privacy settings that can be changed to limit who can contact your child. AFP urges implementing those where possible. Of course, these settings can sometimes be changed back, so parents should complete a regular privacy check-up.

Online gaming is very popular in Australia and other developed countries, and children are massively engaged. Already in 2018, eSafety, the country’s independent regulator for online safety, said in a report that six in 10 young people aged eight to 17 have played online multiplayer games.

An estimated 17% of multiplayer gamers have experienced in-game bullying. eSafety also said in another report that “exposure to negative online content and sexual content is prevalent among young people aged 14 to 17 years.”

“Digital parenting needs to evolve as children grow so that young people are well prepared to respond safely to harmful online content,” last year’s report named “Mind the Gap” said.

Big Tech is trying to help out – or not. In late 2022, Google said it was rolling out several new features to help parents control their children’s time and activities online.

On the other hand, a report from McAfee, a computer security company, said in August 2022 that Meta-owned Facebook and Instagram platforms remain the worst offenders for online bullying, with children as young as 10 being subjected to racist insults.